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She’s small and slender, but the power of the “jungle’s representative” is in her black, transparent eyes, under thick lashes. Hoàng Loan Phương conquers people with her straightforward, honest personality and her love for wildlife.
The savior of turtles
Even though Phương is still very young, other volunteers at Education for Nature-Vietnam (ENV) call her by the friendly nickname “The Turtle Knight”.
Fate made Phương an ENV volunteer, thanks to the turtles. As Phương recalls, the historic flood in Hanoi of winter 2008 sent a lost little turtle to her house. The high school girl fell for the little fellow, and kept him as a pet. She then became a member of the Hanoi Turtle Club, and went on to own dozens of rare and endangered Vietnamese turtle species.
The first contribution of “The Turtle Knight” as a volunteer was actually rescuing… monkeys. When travelling to Cúc Phương National Park, Phương observed five macaques being kept illegally in a private residence. She and her friends were unable to contact the local FPD because it was the weekend, but back in Hanoi, Phương continued working with ENV staff to urge authorities to rescue the macaques. Eventually, all five of them were safely transferred to a rescue center – three Stump-tailed macaques (Macaca arctoides) and two Long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) – all of which are protected by law as endangered species.
After that case, Phương decided to transfer all her “treasures” to ENV, releasing two keeled box turtles (Cuora mouhotii) to Cúc Phương Turtle Conservation Center. It was a hard decision, made more difficult by the protests of the Hanoi Turtle Club and other netizen communities. Phương’s heart was torn by the loss of her closest friends, but she did not regret the decision. The more she works for wildlife protection, the more she believes that she’s walking the right path. She has found new friends who share her passion. They have gained a new source of energy, which is fresh and strong.
In the second turtle transfer, Phương persuaded a close friend to transfer more than ten turtles to the rescue center. Many friends from the Turtle Club also gave up their hobby, and she became the bridge for many other people to release endangered turtles back to their natural environment.
The Jungle Knight
The main volunteer activities of Phương and her friends is to learn wildlife identification skills; to present and participate in seminars about bears, tigers, rhinos, turtles, etc; and to encourage people in public places such as supermarkets, parks, and schools to learn about wildlife protection. Every time someone asks her for more information, Phương feels happy because it means there is one less risk to wildlife.
As a representative of the jungle in Vietnam’s capital, Hoàng Loan Phương and her partners also go wildlife monitoring and investigating at locations and facilities that are suspected of committing wildlife crime such as restaurants, traditional pharmacies, and souvenir shops. When checking if restaurants are serving wildlife on their menus, Phương often disguises herself as a client looking to book a party there. All the information collected in these visits is reported to authorities. There have been times when Phương has faced danger and restaurant staff have threatened to harm her.
Phương confides that she has chosen a career as a tour guide to be able to work with this passion. She wishes to travel everywhere, to see the jungles with her own eyes – and see the wildlife species in nature that she has only seen in pictures.
Over the last four years, the little knight has reported 15 violations, monitored another 40 violations, and participated in many public exhibits on wildlife protection. Recently, Phương also received an “excellent volunteer” award for her contribution to ENV’s Volunteer Wildlife Protection Network.
Source: Phụ nữ Thủ Đô (Capital’s Women)
Translated by Education for Nature – Vietnam. This translation is unofficial in nature. The Vietnamese language version of this story can be obtained by contacting ENV.